DEA Cracks Down On All Fentanyl-Related Drugs

By Paul Gaita 11/16/17

The DEA's new effort will make it easier to prosecute fentanyl traffickers and stop the spread of the deadly synthetic opioid.

DEA official Gary Tuggle speaking about the dangers of fentanyl
DEA official Gary Tuggle speaking about the dangers of fentanyl Photo via YouTube

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will take a step toward cutting into the thousands of fentanyl-related overdose deaths that have taken place this year, by temporarily classifying any related form of the synthetic opioid as a Schedule I drug, a designation reserved for drugs that have a high potential for abuse.

In a press release issued on November 9, the DEA announced that it would impose the designation on fentanyl analogues as an emergency action, and would prosecute any individual who possesses, imports, distributes or manufactures any illicit form of the drug "in the same manner as for fentanyl and other controlled substances."

As the press release noted, the decision is an attempt to ease the way for federal prosecutors and agents to take action against traffickers of all forms of fentanyl and fentanyl-related drugs.

In the press release, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the action is part of President Donald Trump's efforts to "combat the deadly drug crisis in America." He also urged members of Congress to take action by "permanently scheduling these lethal substances" as Schedule I drugs.

The temporary scheduling will go into effect no earlier than 30 days after the DEA publishes its notice of intent, and will remain in place for up to two years, after which a one-year extension is possible if certain conditions are met.

"Today's action represents just one step in the ongoing fight to battle the opioid epidemic," said acting DEA Administrator Robert W. Patterson. "DEA is committed to using all of its tools to aggressively fight and address the opioid crisis and growing fentanyl problem plaguing the United States."

The press release specifically cites the limits of current legislation to prosecute traffickers and manufacturers of fentanyl-related drugs as the key reason for the emergency designation. The release specifically names the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as providing a loophole for "overseas chemical manufacturers" and "illicit domestic distributors" who create structural variants of fentanyl that are not listed under the CSA.

The release also claimed that without the emergency action by the DEA, prosecutors are forced to "overcome cumbersome evidentiary hurdles" to convict traffickers under the Analogue Act.

The release asserted that such variants come to the United States through "the mail or express shipping systems," or across the southwestern border—but did not name China, which has been alleged to be the primary source of fentanyl in the United States.

A Chinese official recently dismissed such claims during President Trump's visit to Asia, stating that the U.S. lacked "sufficient evidence" to prove that China is behind the influx of the drug.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.